“We must take this painful step to withdraw from large portions of the West Bank. There are millions of Palestinians in this region. If they vote, this will become a binational state, and if not—an apartheid state.” These words were spoken by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a recent speech at Bar-Ilan University. Many prominent Israelis, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have consistently made the apartheid analogy.
A walk through the West Bank shows that Barak’s words come many years too late—the apartheid future Barak warns his people of is already here. How has Israel, 62 years after its birth, found itself in this reality? According to the Palestine Chronicle, the answer is found in three systems of oppression: (1) The prolonged occupation and colonization of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; (2) The system of racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and (3) the persistent denial of the U.N.-sanctioned rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
Despite the Obama administration’s efforts to halt colonization in the West Bank with “no exceptions,” Israel continues to build without restriction and cuts off Palestinian cities and families from each other, particularly in East Jerusalem. Approximately 24,145 Palestinian homes have been destroyed. In addition, hundreds of Israeli checkpoints strangle movement, nonviolent protesters languish in Israeli prisons without charge, and access to water, education, electricity, and other basic necessities is greatly restricted.
Prospects for just negotiations are almost nonexistent. Fortunately, an international grassroots movement committed to drawing attention to Israel’s apartheid practices has gained traction. This week, people around the world will participate in the 6th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week and call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel. BDS, the movement so instrumental to ending South African apartheid, calls for people to refrain from buying Israeli goods, dissolve contracts with companies and institutions complicit in Israeli apartheid, and push for governmental sanctions against Israel until it grants Palestinians their basic human rights.
Eleven days separate the election victory of the South African Nationalist Party on a platform of apartheid on May 26, 1948, and the declaration of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948, yet history has run a different course in both locations, placing one indigenous population on the road to equality and the other in a state of perpetual subjugation. A reevaluation of what went right in South Africa, and what went terribly wrong in Israel, therefore seems to be completely in order. Even those that fought and lived against apartheid, like Nelson Mandela, have sided with the Palestinians and called for an end to the Israeli apartheid system: “The UN took a strong stand against [South African] apartheid. ... But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.
During this week, Columbia is working with other New York organizations and universities to showcase a series of events to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people. Today on Columbia’s campus, there will be a mock Apartheid Wall to highlight the eight-meter-high segregation wall that cuts through the West Bank. On Tuesday, expect a joint lecture by Ben White, author of “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide,” Anjali Kamat, producer for Democracy Now!, and Andrew Kadi, human rights activist with Adalah-NY.
You might ask why busy Columbia students would spend their weekends building a mock wall and organizing for this week. The answer is twofold: as tax payers who fund the Israeli occupation, with about seven million dollars a day (even in this economy), we are complicit in allowing this to happen with our money. We believe this issue is one of the most urgent of our time. While some may try to distort the meaning of this week, and label it as anti-Semitic or fueled by hate, we wish to clarify: this week is motivated by love and respect for human rights and social justice everywhere and for all people, something that Palestinians have been denied for far too long.
Tanya Keilani is a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Dayana Khatib is a student in the School of General Studies. Rahim Kurwa is a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Alaa Milbes is a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Aseel Najib is a Columbia College first-year. Yasmina Rajani is a Columbia College sophomore. Fatimah Rimawi is a Barnard College first-year. Alaa Saleh is a first-year in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Matt Swagler is a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Randa Wahbe is a student in the Mailman School of Public Health. Maryam Zohny is a student in the School of International and Public Affairs.